Idyllic circuit-breaker living in the ‘House with Two Faces’

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/ EdgeProp Singapore
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April 24, 2020 9:00 AM SGT
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SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - Singapore’s “circuit breaker” measures — introduced to contain the local spread of Covid-19 — has been extended to June 1. This has brought into sharp relief the importance of having a well-designed and well-thought-out home. It has also magnified the angst of those who do not live in one.
Kenneth Kan and his wife Mei Ling at their new home at Hoot Kiam Road, which they moved into in January (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
Kenneth Kan and his wife Mei Ling at their new home at Hoot Kiam Road, which they moved into in January (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
Kenneth Kan, a partner at a leading alternative investment management firm, is able to weather the circuit breaker better than most at his newly rebuilt terraced house on Hoot Kiam Road, off River Valley. It was designed to suit his lifestyle, with help from award-winning architectural firm, RT+Q.
“We were very fortunate that the house was completed in January,” says Kan. This gave his household of four — including his wife Mei Ling, labrador retriever Dory and their helper — enough time to settle into their new home before safe-distancing and circuit-breaker measures were imposed in March and April respectively. As such, they have been able to make adjustments to their lifestyle with minimal disruption.
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Virtual dinner parties

Kan had wanted a home where he could entertain friends and family. His “restaurant concept” kitchen allows him to prepare his dishes at one end of a 7m marble countertop, and seat 14 dinner guests at the other end.
The central feature of the home's open kitchen is the 7m marble countertop that's long enough for Kan to prepare food and seat 14 for dinner (Photo: Masano Kawana)
The central feature of the home's open kitchen is the 7m marble countertop that's long enough for Kan to prepare food and seat 14 for dinner (Photo: Masano Kawana)
The circuit breaker may have put his dinner parties on pause, but the couple has adapted by practising “distant socialising”. “We have dinner with friends or family from time to time using video conferencing apps,” says Kan. “All you need is a tablet or a laptop to achieve the feeling that you are not alone.”
He has also increased his repertoire of recipes from watching cooking programmes. “At the end of the circuit breaker, we would all be ‘master chefs’,” he adds.
Beyond space to entertain, Kan’s list of requirements for his home that has been fulfilled include: an open plan design, a tranquil pool, a wine cellar that can fit 500 bottles for his wine collection, a bar area for his whiskey collection, a sizeable study, as well as a generous-sized master bedroom with en suite walk-in wardrobe and master bathroom.
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The living room that showcases Kan's art collection, whiskey bar and television concealed by the artwork (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
The living room that showcases Kan's art collection, whiskey bar and television concealed by the artwork (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
With gyms closed for now, Kan thought long and hard about where he could participate in live virtual high intensity interval training (HIIT) classes. He decided to use his spacious living room which has a big screen TV concealed behind a painting. “When I’m home alone, I will shift the artwork so I can watch TV,” he says. “But when I have guests over, I will conceal the TV screen with the painting.” Smart home features have also been installed in the new home, enabling Kan to control the lights, fan, music and even air-conditioning via his mobile phone or tablet.

Attic turned part study, part prayer room

As Singaporeans hunker down for the third week in what is now an extended, two-month-long circuit breaker, having a proper study or workspace to work from at home has become a priority.
Kan is glad he had converted his attic into “a part study, part prayer room”. It is here that he spends most of his time — an average of 12 hours on weekdays. “ I’m lucky that it is spacious and conducive for work,” he says.
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Kan in his study at the attic, where he spends an average of 12 hours a day on weekdays (Photo: Kenneth Kan)
Kan in his study at the attic, where he spends an average of 12 hours a day on weekdays (Photo: Kenneth Kan)
His routine has not changed all that much either: “I still wake up at the same time every day and start work at the same time, but from my study in the attic,” he says.
There are certainly perks to working from home: “I get more home-cooked lunches and trade business dinners for dinner at home with my wife.”
As the attic also doubles as a prayer room, this is where the couple has been participating in virtual masses since mid-February, following the closure of Catholic churches along with other places of worship. Suspended from the ceiling of Kan’s attic is a bronze Corpus Christi crucifix, the handiwork of Indonesian painter and sculptor Teguh Ostenrik.
Part of the attic has been turned into a prayer area and features a bronze Corpus Christi crucifix by Indonesian painter and sculptor Teguh Ostenrik (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
Part of the attic has been turned into a prayer area and features a bronze Corpus Christi crucifix by Indonesian painter and sculptor Teguh Ostenrik (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
Renowned for his sculpture of Christ that appears to be floating above the altar of the Church of St Mary of the Angels at Bukit Batok, Kan commissioned Ostenrik to produce a miniature version of the sculpture for the attic. “It has transformed the room into a sanctuary for us,” he adds.

Freehold, landed property close to Orchard Road

Four years ago, Kan had been shopping for a conservation property when he chanced upon the house, which had been on the market for sometime. The previous owners were three siblings who had inherited the property from their parents. It was “rather run-down then,” Kan recalls.
However, he saw the potential of the house, which was built in the 1920s. It was one of a row of just 10 heritage terraced houses sitting on an island plot. Located in prime District 10, it has a freehold tenure.
The house is just one of 10 conserved terraced houses fronting Hoot Kiam Road (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
The house is just one of 10 conserved terraced houses fronting Hoot Kiam Road (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
The attraction of the property on Hoot Kiam Road is also “the rarity of having a house so close to Orchard Road”, says Kan. “If you look out that glass door, it doesn’t feel like you’re in the heart of town and near the main road.”

Sense of drama, surprise

Kan wanted a house with an element of surprise. “I always liked a property where you can’t tell from the outside what it looks like on the inside, and when you walk in, it’s like ‘Wow’.”
Rene Tan, co-founder and director of RT+Q, designed the house with two completely different facades. Hence, Kan named the property “House with Two Faces”. Fronting Hoot Kiam Road is the conserved terrace house painted black and white — with original main doors, window frames and sashes.
The exterior fronting Hoot Kiam Road has been conserved, with original doors and windows (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
The exterior fronting Hoot Kiam Road has been conserved, with original doors and windows (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
Enlivening a disused back lane is a contemporary glass exterior, which is the new part of the house. “It was designed to stretch the house, making it feel more spacious and visibly larger,” says Tan. More importantly, it introduces natural daylight into the house, he adds.
The back lane, which was previously neglected, has been turned into a “useful urban space” where Kan enjoys his breakfast after his morning run and exercise.
The contemporary exterior facing the back lane of the 'House with two faces' (Photo: Masano Kawana)
The contemporary exterior facing the back lane of the 'House with two faces' (Photo: Masano Kawana)
Adding “a sense of drama” within, is the bridge spanning the double-volume space of the living room. “It is a sculpture in the air,” says RT+Q’s Tan. The bridge serves as “a horizontal link” between the master bathroom situated at the front of the house on the second level, and the walk-in wardrobe, with the master bedroom beyond. The bridge and the space created insulates the master bedroom from the noise of the main road, points out Tan.

Putting the wrong thing at the right place

Locating the master bathroom at the front of the house, which is usually given to the principal rooms is a good example of RT+Q’s design approach, adds Tan. “Occasionally, we put the wrong thing at the right place.”
Within the walk-in wardrobe is a spiral staircase with niches for storage. Kan’s wife uses it to display her shoes and handbags. The spiral staircase leads to the study and prayer room in the attic.
The bridge serves as “a horizontal link” between the master bathroom situated at the front of the house on the second level, and the walk-in wardrobe, with the master bedroom beyond (Photo: Masano Kwana)
The bridge serves as “a horizontal link” between the master bathroom situated at the front of the house on the second level, and the walk-in wardrobe, with the master bedroom beyond (Photo: Masano Kwana)
Besides the master bedroom, there are two other bedrooms on the second level. They both share a bathroom, which RT+Q designed as a circular “playful space”. There’s another spiral staircase that leads to the attic level on the “new part” of the house fronting the back lane.
There are two other rooms on the attic level of the new part of the house. One is the helper’s room, while the other is designed as a loft for the bedroom below. It has the flexibility to be turned into a music room or a study, and has a full-height glass window with a view of the greenery. “This room probably has the best view in the house,” says Kan.
Even though the interiors of the original house were completely gutted, Kan was careful to retain the historical elements of the house. The feature walls are are an example: one of aluminium roof material outside the powder room (which is neatly tucked under the staircase); and the other, of original exposed bricks.
The spiral staircase in the wardrobe area has niches which allows Kan's wife, Mei Ling to display her handbags and shoes (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
The spiral staircase in the wardrobe area has niches which allows Kan's wife, Mei Ling to display her handbags and shoes (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
“The bricks and aluminium highlight the contrast between old and new in their respective spaces and yet tie together the concept of the house,” says RT+Q’s Tan.

Samsui women and homes of the past

An avid art collector, Kan commissioned a local Asian sculptor to create figurines of three Samsui women for his home. This is because the history of the house coincided with the era of the Samsui women, who had arrived in Singapore from Sanshui district, Canton (now Guangdong), in large numbers in the mid-1930s. Many of them worked as general labourers in the construction industry.
To depict the disappearance of the Samsui women, Kan asked the sculptor to create the figurines with holes. He was inspired by a sculpture he had seen at ION Orchard mall. The rest of the art pieces around the house are from Kan’s personal collection over the years.
An avid art collector, Kan commissioned a local Asian sculptor to create figurines of three Samsui women for his home (Photo: Masano Kawana)
An avid art collector, Kan commissioned a local Asian sculptor to create figurines of three Samsui women for his home (Photo: Masano Kawana)
Previously, Kan lived in a high-rise condominium — on the 30th floor of one of the towers at Reflections at Keppel Bay, designed by renowned architect Daniel Libeskind. He liked the unit because of the views but has since rented out the apartment.
“People tend to go for something they don’t have,” he observes. Prior to that, Kan had lived in a bungalow. “But you have to deal with leaks and all the maintenance issues,” he says.
“When you buy a house from someone else — be it a semi-detached or a bungalow — it’s usually just a lot of square rooms,” says Kan. “There’s no element of surprise.”
Rene Tan of RT+Q: Locating the master bathroom at the front of the house, which is usually given to the principal rooms is a good example of RT+Q’s design approach: occasionally, we put the wrong thing at the right place (Albert Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
Rene Tan of RT+Q: Locating the master bathroom at the front of the house, which is usually given to the principal rooms is a good example of RT+Q’s design approach: occasionally, we put the wrong thing at the right place (Albert Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
As the couple do not have any children yet, “it will be a waste of space to have many bedrooms”, he adds. “I would rather spend money doing up the house according to my taste and my requirements.”
That is exactly what he has done. And he is happy with the way his current home has turned out.
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